Damien F. Mackey
At the beginning of my:
Resurrection and the Shroud: ‘a New Dimension’, ‘a New Science’.
Reading through, this Lent and Easter,
by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI,
I was struck by his marvellous discussion of
the Resurrection of Jesus Christ –
“a divine action in history and nature
that changed history and nature in a radical way”.
This subject of the Lord’s Resurrection is treated in some detail by Josef Ratzinger in his controversial Chapter 9.
The Rev. Donald Sanborn, who has caustically criticised the pope’s book, has lined up this particular chapter for his main frontal attack. “The principal error, indeed heresy, of this book is [Ratzinger’s] denial of the Resurrection of Christ” (Modernism Resurrected: Benedict XVI on the Resurrection). http://www.traditionalmass.org/images/articles/RazResArt.pdf
…. Now someone might say that I am going too far in this accusation, since Ratzinger professes belief in the Resurrection of Christ. I respond that Ratzinger believes something about the Resurrection of Christ, but that he does not believe in the Catholic dogma of the Resurrection. For in order that we qualify as Catholics, it is necessary that we accept the dogmas of the Catholic Church according to the same sense in which the Church has always understood them.
Sanborn then goes on to test whether “Ratzinger [does] profess belief in the Resurrection in the sense that the Church originally held it”, before concluding emphatically that he doesn’t.
But one always needs to read most attentively what Josef Ratzinger actually writes.
Let us firstly, though, refresh our minds on what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say on the matter of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ:
- The Historical and Transcendent Event
639 The mystery of Christ’s resurrection is a real event, with manifestations that were historically verified, as the New Testament bears witness. In about a.d. 56, St. Paul could already write to the Corinthians: “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the Twelve …” [I Cor 15:3-4]. The Apostle speaks here of the living tradition of the Resurrection which he had learned after his conversion at the gates of Damascus. … [Cf. Acts 9:3-18].
The empty tomb
640 “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” …. [Lk 24:5-6]. The first element we encounter in the framework of the Easter events is the empty tomb. In itself it is not a direct proof of Resurrection; the absence of Christ’s body from the tomb could be explained otherwise. … [Cf. Jn 20:13; Mt 28:11-15]. Nonetheless the empty tomb was still an essential sign for all. Its discovery by the disciples was the first step toward recognizing the very fact of the Resurrection. This was the case, first with the holy women, and then with Peter. … [Cf. Lk 24:3, 12, 22-23]. The disciple “whom Jesus loved” affirmed that when he entered the empty tomb and discovered “the linen cloths lying there,” “he saw and believed.” … [Jn 20:2, 6, 8].
This suggests that he realized from the empty tomb’s condition that the absence of Jesus’ body could not have been of human doing and that Jesus had not simply returned to earthly life as had been the case with Lazarus. … [Cf. Jn 11:44; 20:5-7].
The appearances of the Risen One
641 Mary Magdalene and the holy women who came to finish anointing the body of Jesus, which had been buried in haste because the Sabbath began on the evening of Good Friday, were the first to encounter the Risen One. … [Mk 16:1; Lk 24:1; Jn 19:31, 42]. Thus the women were the first messengers of Christ’s Resurrection for the apostles themselves… [Cf. Lk 24:9-10; Mt 28:9-10; Jn 20:11-18]. They were the next to whom Jesus appears: first Peter, then the Twelve. Peter had been called to strengthen the faith of his brothers … [Cf. I Cor 15:5; Lk 22:31-32], and so sees the Risen One before them; it is on the basis of his testimony that the community exclaims: “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” … [Lk 24:34, 36].
642 Everything that happened during those Paschal days involves each of the apostles – and Peter in particular – in the building of the new era begun on Easter morning. As witnesses of the Risen One, they remain the foundation stones of his Church. The faith of the first community of believers is based on the witness of concrete men known to the Christians and for the most part still living among them. Peter and the Twelve are the primary “witnesses to his Resurrection,” but they are not the only ones – Paul speaks clearly of more than five hundred persons to whom Jesus appeared on a single occasion and also of James and of all the apostles…. [I Cor 15:4-8; cf. Acts 1:22].
643 Given all these testimonies, Christ’s Resurrection cannot be interpreted as something outside the physical order, and it is impossible not to acknowledge it as an historical fact. It is clear from the facts that the disciples’ faith was drastically put to the test by their master’s Passion and death on the cross, which he had foretold. … [Cf. Lk 22:31-32]. The shock provoked by the Passion was so great that at least some of the disciples did not at once believe in the news of the Resurrection. Far from showing us a community seized by a mystical exaltation, the Gospels present us with disciples demoralized (“looking sad”… [Lk 24:17; cf. Jn 20:19]) and frightened. For they had not believed the holy women returning from the tomb and had regarded their words as an “idle tale.” … [Lk 24:11; cf. Mk 16:11, 13]. When Jesus reveals himself to the Eleven on Easter evening, “he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.” … [Mk 16:14].
644 Even when faced with the reality of the risen Jesus the disciples are still doubtful, so impossible did the thing seem: they thought they were seeing a ghost. “In their joy they were still disbelieving and still wondering” … [Lk 24:38-41]. Thomas will also experience the test of doubt and St. Matthew relates that during the risen Lord’s last appearance in Galilee “some doubted” ….[Cf. Jn 20:24-27; Mt 28:17]. Therefore the hypothesis that the Resurrection was produced by the apostles’ faith (or credulity) will not hold up. On the contrary their faith in the Resurrection was born, under the action of divine grace, from their direct experience of the reality of the risen Jesus.
The condition of Christ’s risen humanity
645 By means of touch and the sharing of a meal, the risen Jesus establishes direct contact with his disciples. He invites them in this way to recognize that he is not a ghost and above all to verify that the risen body in which he appears to them is the same body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of his passion. … [Cf. Lk 24:30, 39-40, 41-43; Jn 20:20, 27; 21:9, 13-15]. Yet at the same time this authentic, real body possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills; for Christ’s humanity can no longer be confined to earth and belongs henceforth only to the Father’s divine realm. … [Cf. Mt 28:9, 16-17; Lk 24:15, 36; Jn 20:14, 17, 19, 26; 21:4]. For this reason too the risen Jesus enjoys the sovereign freedom of appearing as he wishes: in the guise of a gardener or in other forms familiar to his disciples, precisely to awaken their faith. …. [Cf. Mk 16:12; Jn 20:14-16; 21:4, 7].
646 Christ’s Resurrection was not a return to earthly life, as was the case with the raisings from the dead that he had performed before Easter: Jairus’ daughter, the young man of Naim, Lazarus. These actions were miraculous events, but the persons miraculously raised returned by Jesus’ power to ordinary earthly life. At some particular moment they would die again. Christ’s Resurrection is essentially different. In his risen body he passes from the state of death to another life beyond time and space. At Jesus’ Resurrection his body is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit: he shares the divine life in his glorious state, so that St. Paul can say that Christ is “the man of heaven” … [Cf. I Cor 15:35-50].
[End of quotes]
Whilst in the controversial case of the Last Supper we may be missing the body of a real lamb, with the Resurrection we are not, despite criticisms, missing the real body of the Lamb.
Actually, I think, Josef Ratzinger’s case for the Resurrection harmonises with all of this and fully accords with its sense. He takes up this last point (# 646), for instance, when he writes on page 243, differentiating the raising of Lazarus and the daughter of Jairus from Christ’s Resurrection:
Now it must be acknowledged that if in Jesus’ Resurrection we were dealing simply with the miracle of a resuscitated corpse, it would ultimately be of no concern to us. For it would be no more important than the resuscitation of a clinically dead person through the art of doctors. The miracle of a resuscitated corpse would indicate that Jesus’ Resurrection was equivalent to the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Lk 7: 11-17), the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5: 22-24, 35-43 and parallel passages), and Lazarus (Jn 11: 1-44). After a more or less short period, these individuals returned to their former lives, and then at a later point they died definitively.
And, in the case of the Pope’s p. 269: “… the Resurrection. … Luke ends up contradicting his own narrative …”, this appears to be only the “view”, as he says, “Most exegetes take …”, not necessarily the Pope’s own view.
Sanborn, commenting on this very section, wrongly concludes: “So despite his assurance that Christ is “embodied” (page 268), [Ratzinger] again shows his revulsion for the Catholic dogma by reacting to St. Luke’s account of our risen Lord’s eating a fish (Luke XXIV: 42)”.
But it is apparent from various references by the Pope to the risen Jesus’s eating with his disciples (eating grilled fish; breaking bread with the disciples of Emmaus, p. 269; sharing meals, p. 271) that the author has no such reactive issue to these phenomena.
It is also quite clear from a close reading of the book, too, that it is the same Jesus who was crucified (“he is the same embodied man”, p. 266, “complete with his body”, p. 274), who rose, and who appeared to his disciples, but “not a ghost (spirit)”, “he does not belong to the realm of the dead [Hades], but is somehow able to reveal himself in the realm of the living” (p. 273). This whole transcendental paradigm presents an immense challenge to our narrow human thinking (pp. 274-275):
Essential, then, is the fact that Jesus’ Resurrection was not just about some deceased individual coming back to life at a certain point, but that an ontological leap occurred, one that touches being as such, opening up a dimension that affects us all, creating for all of us a new space of life, a new space of being in union with God.
It is in these terms that the question of the historicity of the Resurrection should be addressed. On the one hand, we must acknowledge that it is of the essence of the Resurrection precisely to burst open history and usher in a new dimension commonly described as eschatological. The Resurrection opens up the new space that transcends history and creates the definitive. In this sense, it follows that Resurrection is not the same kind of historical event as the birth or crucifixion of Jesus. It is something new, a new type of event.
Yet at the same time it must be understood that the Resurrection does not simply stand outside or above history. As something that breaks out of history and transcends it, the Resurrection nevertheless has its origin within history and up to a certain point still belongs there. Perhaps we could put it this way: Jesus’ Resurrection points beyond history but has left a footprint within history. Therefore it can be attested by witnesses as an event of an entirely new kind.
Indeed, the apostolic preaching with all its boldness and passion would be unthinkable unless the witnesses had experienced a real encounter, coming to them from outside, with something entirely new and unforeseen, namely, the self-revelation and verbal communication of the risen Christ. Only a real event of a radically new quality could possibly have given rise to the apostolic preaching, which cannot be explained on the basis of speculations or inner, mystical experiences. In all its boldness and originality, it draws life from the impact of an event that no one had invented, an event that surpassed all that could be imagined.
[End of quote]
To sum up the two hotly debated topics of Josef Ratzinger’s book:
Whilst in the controversial case of the Last Supper we may be missing the body of a real lamb, see:
‘Western Logic’ and the ‘Logos’. Part Two: Did Jesus Eat the Passover Lamb?
with the Resurrection we are not, despite criticisms, missing the real body of the Lamb.